Friday, October 13, 2017

Fire and water.

My grandmother was oft heard quoting Aesop, "...fire and water, they are good servants but bad masters."  Even as a small child I got the gist of what she was saying.  However, growing up in Liverpool, I didn't think I was in imminent danger of burning up, or being washed away.  Fire is mostly great; a cozy wood burning stove, a candlelit dinner, toasting s'mores round a fire-pit.  Better still, chestnuts.  Good servant stuff.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, now I live in tinderbox dry California and wildfires happen.  The bad master stuff.
One week ago, I was going about life in a normal manner, e.g., picking Cabernet franc.  Exactly one week later things are not quite normal.  In fact, I'd go as far as to say they are abnormal.  I went to bed last Sunday night ignorant to the fact that there was a wildfire raging just a few miles from here.  Without going into detail, except to say that what ensued was quite dramatic, at 3.45 a.m Monday morning Vinomaker and I had to quickly evacuate Vinoland.  I grabbed Vinodog 2, my passport, my green card, my wedding ring, my rosary beads (from the Vatican) and my purse - and I was gone! We returned about 7 hours later.  Everything just as we'd left it, but now covered in a grey and black layer of ash.
Six days later, we still have no power, but thank God we have everything else.  In an area just about 3 miles from Vinoland, an entire street is gone.  I don't have that voyeur-bone in my body that some folks have.  People suffering horrible loses are not there for my entertainment.  I would want to grieve the loss of a home, a pet, or all of my possessions in private.  Yes, I'm curious, but this cat doesn't have nine lives.  I'll survive without witnessing, first hand, the misery of others.
Speaking with neighbours who have been in this area since the early 60s, I have learned that wildfires ravage this area about once every 20 years.  One neighbour recalled for me the calamitous fire of 1964, the year he moved to Coombsville.  And an even more destructive conflagration in 1981.  So, it seems, we were overdue.  Everything in life is cyclical and that includes wildfires.  It's just that now there are more people and homes in the way of Mother Nature (when she takes it upon herself to do a little housekeeping).  And vineyards.
Last winters heavy rains only exacerbated the intensity of these wildfires, as there is plenty of fuel to keep them stoked.  The charred hillside, from where I took this photograph, is now mostly clear of brush and shrubs, a lot of the larger trees are blackened but still standing.  Just like the neighbourhood itself: a little singed, but mostly unscathed.  I wish I could say the same for all Napans.  Fuel for thought.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Good morning, Franc!

It's been several years since Vinomaker has had the chance to make Cabernet franc (CF), his favourite varietal wine to make.  The owner of the Oak Knoll District CF vineyard, from where we sourced the grapes, had decided to replant after suffering years of declining vine health.  So when Vinomaker got the call that there was some fruit available he hopped at the chance.
It was fun to get out early in the morning to harvest the fruit.  The valley is a hive of activity right now and you can't turn in any direction without seeing fruit laden picking bins and gondolas.  Replanted on 101-14 Mgt rootstock, grafted to CF clone 214, there really wasn't much fruit on the young vines.  On arrival in back Vinoland, the fruit was destemmed and became a field blend with a batch of St. helena Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hopefully, in 2018, the owner of the vineyard will once again let us have some grapes; a lot more grapes, perhaps.  Picking-knives crossed.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The birds and the bees.

The birds and the bees are in busying themselves with reducing Vinoland's Cabernet Sauvignon crop.  It's not that I begrudge my avian and apian friends a little fresh fruit now and again.  It's just that I can't help but feel a little pang of disappointment at the fact that some of my lovingly pruned and farmed grapes will not get the chance to fulfill their destiny by becoming wine.  I already knew that the minute the local animal population becomes this interested in the fruit, the fruit is ripening.  I really should have taken a sugar sample before today, but I've been a bit busy.
The birds and the bees were correct.  The fruit is rather ripe; the sugar is at 25 °Brix and the seeds are mostly brown.  However, Vinomaker thinks the juice tastes just a little green still.  I don't.  I think the juice tastes simply delicious, typically Cab-like.  Apparently, so do the birds.  And the bees.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Terrific and 10!

It is Vinodog 2's 10th birthday today - that's 70 in dog years.  Wow!
V2 has had a great day so far; bacon for breakfast, a new squeaky toy (to destroy) and a nice morning walk.  She is now having a snooze next to me.  It's a dog's life.
And here is my favourite, fabulous, fun poochie (in a recent photograph) channeling her British heritage.  Look how grey she is getting: her black bits used to be jet black.  Oh well, it happens to us all.
Happy birthday V2!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Rah-rah for Syrah!

When I left for work this morning the Syrah grapes were hanging around in all their resplendent purple-gorgeousness.  When I got home I discovered that the fruits of my labour had had the bejesus squished out of them.
The St. Helena Sots harvested their Cabernet sauvignon this morning and were then bringing their grapes to Vinoland for processing.  Ever efficient, Vinomaker had arranged for our Syrah to be picked today, so that everything could be processed together.
Vinomaker was surprised at the size of the crop, a little larger yield than normal.  I knew the quality of the 2017 fruit was good, but quality and quantity don't always go hand in hand.  I don't have the Syrah's vital statistics yet, but the juice tastes lovely, very sweet.
A great growing season in Vinoland.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bad Week.

I'm so glad that TIME magazine (September 25, 2017 issue) summed up the 2017 growing season for its readership in one small sentence, albeit in a large red dot.
Yes, admittedly, it did get a little toasty earlier this month.  The mercury climbed to 108 °F in Vinoland and got as high as 114 °F up in Rutherford.  Grapevines do not thrive in extremely hot weather, not many plants do. However, with careful canopy management and an effective irrigation programme - throughout the entire growing season, not just when it is hot - most vineyards fare quite well.  The vast majority of Napa's growers will have planned ahead to ensure that their vineyards could withstand a heatwave.  Consequently, because of these best management practices, vineyards valley-wide saw very little raisining.
My sense of the 2017 growing season is that it has been a rather average one, more normal in many respects.  It isn't that unusual to experience changeable weather in any growing period.  The vineyards of the Napa Valley may, or may not, encounter bud-killing frosts in late spring, rainy days in early summer and the occasional spell of exceptionally high temperatures, and survive it all.  The sky is not falling down.
Curious as to what passes as a 'Good Week' in TIME?  Fast food chain, Chipotle, is now serving up a spicy cheese at all of its restaurants.  Very hot news indeed.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The future is mechanical.

As I've said before, I am not a fan of the mechanical method of harvesting grapes; the vines get beat up, the rachis is left behind along with a lot of grapes/raisins (all of which could become inoculum for, e.g., Black Rot) and all that shaking gathers up anything else that may be hanging around in the canopy.  (I noticed that one of Napa County's pest-traps was a casualty of mechanical harvesting in my neighbour's vineyard - it was ripped into shreds.)  However, the local bird population is ecstatic. They probably cannot believe their good fortune in the discovery that someone prepared a giant fruit salad for their delectation.
Ultimately, with labour costs rising at a rate that is not sustainable, in the near-future the mechanical harvesting of grapes will be de rigueur in the vineyards of the Napa Valley. Rumour has it that, in one or two years from now, when TWWIAGE starts to replant certain blocks of their vineyard the vines will be trained harvester-friendly, i.e., bilateral cordons. Machines don't make demands.
On a happier note, I worked in the Cabernet Sauvignon vines for a little while this afternoon - checking for any second crop I may have missed, taming errant shoots and assessing the leaf-pulling situation.  And I took a grape sample to see how sugar accumulation is progressing.  Not bad, at 23 °Brix the fruit tastes lovely and sweet, the seeds are browning nicely and the crop seems to be of average size.  I'd better sharpen my picking knife.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Stunning Syrah.

The Syrah grapes just look beautiful.  Gorgeous. Yes, there is a little tiny bit of puckering of skin on the west facing rows.  And my feathered friends have been helping themselves to the clusters hanging closest to the tree line.  But, generally, the crop looks fantastic.
A grape sampling today revealed that the sugar is at 24 °Brix: climbing nicely despite the cool weather of the past week.  Vinomaker did a quick chemical analysis and the pH is at 3.48, which is a good range for it to be.  The seeds are all brown, so they are mature.  Time to start thinking picking-logistics.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Far from finished.

This time of year, harvest time, The Napa Valley Register includes in its weekly 'On Wine' section an additional feature: a harvest report.  The harvest report details harvest goings-on in the entire Napa Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA); including all 16 sub-AVAs from Carneros to Calistoga.  Being a vine-geek I love to read it, especially since the Coombsville AVA has been in the mix since harvest of 2012. TWWIAGE's winemaker is a frequent contributor for the Oakville AVA. I had always assumed the reports were accurate, however there was a bit of an oversight in this week's dispatch.
Reporting on week 3, a local Coombsville vintner (who shall remain nameless) was quoted thus: "All the whites are off in our neighborhood..." Really?  Well, his white grapes might have already been harvested, as have Vinoland's, but just several hundred yards from his vineyard is another, rather sizable vineyard with a not insignificant crop of Chardonnay - that's still hanging.  Can't miss it. Titter, titter.
The past two days, the folks at Far Niente have been busy preparing to pick their Chardonnay. And tonight seems to be the night.  Well, it'll be overnight, Monday morning, actually.  I'll probably hear the picking crew and their tractors in the early hours.  And tomorrow, when I leave for work, I'll see that the fruit has been harvested.  Only then, perhaps, will the neighbourhood be devoid of white grapes.
I shouldn't believe everything I read.  I usually don't.  Ho Hum.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Bitter sweet.

Lurking in the upper canopy of the Syrah vines, like a tiny gathering of purple Christmas tree baubles, are a few small bunches of 'second crop' grapes: mini-clusters of grapes that have developed on lateral shoots.  I thought I'd removed most of these little fellows earlier in the season, but apparently not.  The second crop, that I missed when they were green and under ripe, are now purple, but still under ripe. However, they are so much more visible now. The sign of a healthy and vigorous vine, albeit a tad out of balance, in an ideal world, I'd have caught these unwanted clusters earlier in the growing season and dealt with them then.  (In my defence, I am only 5' 5".)  Sigh.
I noticed this particular clusterette today as I performed my first sugar sampling of the season in the Syrah vines.  Visually the fruit is looking great; the sample had about 75% brown seeds and the skin is beginning to give off a little colour.  The sugar came in at 22.8 °Brix.  The Syrah is getting close.
Meanwhile, Vinomaker spent most of his day in mad professor mode, working with the white juice from yesterday.  The Pinot grigio's vital statistics came in at - 26 °Brix, 3.61 pH and 5.25 TA.  Vinomaker has some work to do.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Isn't harvest grape?

Today, Vinomaker and I did what we did exactly one year ago today: we picked our white grapes. Yes, harvest has begun in our modest corner of the Napa Valley with the picking of Vinoland's Pinot grigio (PG) and Orange Muscat grapes.
Everything was progressing along nicely, until the destemmer decided to stop working, the capacitor had failed.  Not being able to destem the fruit before placing it into the press slowed things down considerably.  We were left with no option but to whole-cluster press the grapes.  We got it all done in the end, it just took a little longer.
I was going to use a photograph of a PG cluster for this post.  Instead, I decided on an image of the one, solitary honey bee that showed up to sample the PG juice.  I must apologise, I photographed a sugar-supping bee last year also. However, he was just so cute, I couldn't resist a repeat. Anyhow, the buzz on the street is that Mr. Bee thinks the juice is delicious.  He's right, it is.
Whites down, reds to go.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

All nets are off.

This humble, weathered clothes peg (and, believe me, this clothes peg has experienced some extreme atmospheric conditions over the past two weeks) has done its duty for the 2017 growing season.
Today, I unfastened the bird netting from below the Pinot grigio grapes and pulled leaves from around the clusters, as tomorrow is the first harvest day of 2017 in Vinoland.  Whoo hoo!
See you again in August of 2018, Mr. Peg.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bright, sparkling diamonds.

These are some of the biggest tartrate crystals I have ever seen on the underside of a cork.  Not surprising, I suppose, considering the age of this Sauvignon Blanc (SB) and the fact that it has been stored upside down in a cool cellar for the past 5 years.
Tartrate crystals, also known as wine diamonds, are a harmless, flavourless by-product of winemaking.  When tartaric acid, an acid naturally found in grapes, binds with potassium (under low temperatures) potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) is formed.  If not removed from the wine, by a process called cold stabilisation, excess tartaric acid will solidify and form crystals when wine is chilled in a refrigerator. Voila, wine diamonds!
The bejeweled-wine, in this instance, was a Kobalt Wines 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Knights Valley AVA).  At the grand old age of 6, this is the oldest SB I have had in a quite a while. It's not that I don't like older white wines, I just tend to drink whites when they are young and fresh. One of my favourite things to do with Thud, on visits home, is share a bottle of an older vintage Sancerre (Ladoucette Comte LaFond, an absolute favourite, springs immediately to mind).  I just don't think New World white wines age as well as those from the more traditional wine regions of the world - yet. Having said that, the Kobalt SB was a delightful wine, very food friendly and very moreish.

Friday, September 08, 2017

When they're brown, they're done...

A very misty, damp morning (that, once again, wasn't really forecast) did not deter me from taking a sample of Pinot grigio grapes for a quick refractometer measurement.
I'm thinking that the slightly high reading of 25.2 °Brix  is perhaps due to the 106/108 °F temperatures last weekend that could have resulted in a little bit of dehydration.  The grapes are not raisined, the fruit looks absolutely beautiful this year, so I am not too concerned with the elevated sugar level. Besides, some of the seeds are a lot greener than those in the photograph.  And the juice is tasting fabulous. We are very close.  I'd better start thinking logistics.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Excuse me?

What do you think you're doing, Mother Nature? Stop being a nuisance.
I had planned to be out in the Pinot grigio vines early this morning; testing sugar and finalising a plan for harvest.  But no, I woke up to the pitter-patter of not so tiny raindrops.  Today's forecast, for the Bay Area on the news last night, was for a small amount of cloud cover first thing in the morning, with the possibility of sprinkles at the coast.  (Which begs the question: Why don't meteorologists ever get fired?)  Hmmph!
Vinodog 2 and I went for our morning constitutional and got a bit soggy. My ever-happy poochie didn't actually seem to care about the rain, but I did.  The grapes will be fine.  They look very healthy this year, so I don't envision any problems with secondary invaders, e.g., Aspergillus niger or Penicillium spp.  The heatwave last weekend did not seem to have a negative effect on the clusters.  Still, rain, this early in the season, is such a bunch of rot!
On another note, yesterday was Vinsanity's 9th anniversary.  Forgot all about it, I'll celebrate tonight. Whoo hoo!